Winter in the Blood review

The film of James Welch’s Winter in the Blood is starting to make the film festival circuit:

The LA Times


New season of “The Killing”

Okay, The Killing, I’m watching you; please don’t break my heart again.

With three episodes of season 3 now aired (the most recent, “Seventeen”), I may be falling in love again. At least, those elements of the show that I liked from the beginning, the relaxed pace, the absence of the by-the-numbers plotting of most procedurals and the everything-wrapped-up by the end 0f 40 minutes format (usually after a montage of crime scene investigation magic set to a fast-paced popular song), and, the extended attention to the Pacific Northwest landscape, and, goddammit, the rain, rain, rain, which I have loved, because it sets the show apart from every other television show on the air (especially those filmed in southern California); those elements all seem to be back. The Killing is visually interesting and stylish, particularly in its visual rendering of the urban and natural landscapes of its setting. Very few American television shows are as consistently attentive to striking visual compositions as The Killing, and very few television shows are as attentive to capturing the specific natural elements of a particular place (in part, because so few television shows are actually shot on a location that is anywhere close to their fictional settings).

And I love Linden and Holder, especially when they are together. They haven’t been together that much early on, with Linden officially off the force (through the first two episodes), and Holder with a new partner. We get the sense, though, that they are moving toward one another as the investigation moves forward.

I even liked the unresolved cliffhanger at the end of season one. I was genuinely surprised by that, and it’s a rare television show that does something that is authentically surprising (because, when they do, instead of being pleased that a show has done something unexpected, audiences instead whine, complain, demand closure, swear to never watch the show again, launch letter writing campaigns, etc.).

What I did not like was season two, when the series veered into Native American stereotypes (and also repeated the same old problem of casting non-natives to play native characters), and especially when they decided to explain Linden’s dedication to solving the crime to pat and clichéd psychological reasons (you see, this time, it’s personal). The ridiculous resolution to the mystery didn’t help.

I hope they can avoid those issues this time around.

They also seem to have dropped the political angle. That has always been (and continues to be through its third season) a central element of the Danish series on which The Killing is based. However, I’m not sure how well that played out in the American context, and the focus instead on Seattle street kids seems, thus far, to be more interesting than having a group of politicians as potential suspects/victims. Actually, with the street kids, the series reminds me of DaVinci’s Inquest, the Canadian series set in Vancouver (perhaps in part because The Killing is shot in Vancouver and probably shares some of DaVinci’s shooting locations).

WLA 2013 Conference Information

WLA Conference 2013 in Berkeley. California: Letter from the President Richard Hutson


I look forward to welcoming members of the Western Literature Association to the San Francisco Bay Area.  We will be primarily located in the East Bay, in Berkeley, home of the University of California, but the whole area is easily accessible by public transportation: ACT (Alameda County Transit) bus and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train.  The area still maintains something of its Gold Rush era atmosphere and style: free and easy.  Alfred Hitchcock referred to San Francisco as his West Coast Paris.  The area has a number of Michelin starred restaurants, and the wine regions of Napa and Sonoma counties are part of the San Francisco Bay area.


The featured speakers will include the recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award, Robert Hass (former poet laureate of the U.S., winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 2010.  He will be introduced by Carol Muske-Dukes, recently poet laureate California), Gerald Vizenor (novelist, essayist, former recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award), Ishmael Reed (poet, novelist, essayist, political commentator) and Lucha Corpi (author of children’s books, poetry, essays and detective novels set in the SF Bay area).  A posthumous Distinguished Achievement Award will be given for Louis Owens.


Our meeting will take place at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel and Conference Center on the Berkeley Marina, Berkeley, California phone#: 510-548-7920).  The dates of the WLA conference are Wednesday, October 9 to Saturday, October 12.  Room rates are $159 for single rate and $159 for double rate (plus taxes).  These rates apply three days prior to and after the conference date (Oct. 6-15).  There is complimentary parking.  Just outside the main entrance of the hotel is the Cesar Chavez public park with 1.25 miles of walking path along the Bay frontage for stretching the legs or walking the dog.


The hotel does not have a shuttle from the Oakland International or the San Francisco International airports.  Pay shuttles are available ( Bay Porter Express is $25 per person from Oakland International airport, $34 from San Francisco International airport).  BART trains from both airports (Coliseum/Oakland International ($2.40) or SFO ($8.80)) come to the Downtown Berkeley BART station (get on the Richmond train or transfer to a Richmond train).  There is a bus line from the Berkeley BART to a stop about a block from the Doubletree (51B, Berkeley Marina, not the other 51B to Berkeley Amtrak, $2.10) and there is a taxi stand at the Berkeley BART station.  The hotel has a shuttle to downtown Berkeley that runs on the hour.  It seems that the hotel’s shuttle will also take people to shops, restaurants and other attractions.


Registration fees will be $110 ($75 for graduate students and retired academics).  Food charges for lunch and dinner will be announced later.  All Registrants (except the few invited guests) must be members of the Western Literature Association.


I have been asked about the possibility of wine tours of Napa Valley.  I have hesitated making any arrangements, as these tours tend to be expensive.  I can keep working on this issue, as well as other tours, such as a walking tour of San Francisco with a guide who has written extensively about San Francisco.  There has been in interest in a trip to the Jack London ranch and his fire-ruined Wolf House in the Jack London State Park in Glen Ellyn.  There are a number of urban farms in the East Bay also (check the Institute of Urban Homesteading in Oakland).  The Oakland Museum of California is close by.  Let me know what interests you, as there are many options in the area, and, of course, it is easy to organize your own personal tour.


CFPs – EAAS Conference Panel The Hague 3-6 April, 2014

CFPs – EAAS Conference Panel The Hague 3-6 April, 2014


We invite papers engaging cultural representations of justice, war, and peace in relation to the American West.  Certainly, war has been an inherent part of literature and film about the West. Violence has been regarded as a central feature to the historical development of the American West and its mythic representation. In fact, in American culture the myth of the frontier has often been viewed as a process of regeneration through violence (Slotkin). However, the story of the American West is also a story of trade, tedium, and peace (McMacken). War and peace have been often linked to justice in popular perceptions of the American West. Thus, many western stories and movies have highlighted the search for justice, or the application of different standards of justice in a number of conflicts, to justify war. In recent years the use of western iconography related to war, justice, and peace has gone beyond national and cultural borders acquiring a political international dimension, as exemplified by George W. Bush’s “Dead or Alive” speech after 9/11 attacks. Indeed, Judith Butler’s Frames of War might be usefully related to how the West has contributed to and “approved of” a particular discourse or war and violence

The workshop aims to address how literary and cultural expressions have imagined justice, war, and peace in the American West, including such topics as the Indian wars, frontier violence, the cult of the gunfighter, race, class, gender and religious conflicts, the border war on drugs, the militarization of the region, immigration clashes, urban riots, social justice, peace movements, and environmental justice. Particular attention will be paid to papers that challenge popular and classical notions of the American West, revising traditional modes of expression, recovering neglected voices and/or embracing “postwestern” perspectives that go beyond established notions of the West as a fixed and settled phenomenon. Similarly, the workshop will not be limited to conventional literary texts, but it will also consider papers on other cultural and artistic manifestations, such as photography and film, with an aim of adopting primarily an interdisciplinary approach. We welcome local, regional, and national perspectives on justice, war, and peace in western American literature and culture, but we also encourage international perspectives addressing the transcultural aspects of this region and its global dimension. After all, we intend to discuss a cultural and artistic landscape that claims to be both exceptional and universal.


The maximum presentation time for papers is 20 minutes. Deadlines October 1, 2013: Proposals for workshop papers (one-page abstract [no more than 500 words] and one-paragraph bios) to reach both workshop chairs Neil Campbell   and David Rio

WLA at the ALA

The Western Literature Association sponsored several panels at the 2013 American Literature Association conference in Boston.

Word from the African American West

“Revolt from the Provinces: Wallace Thurman, the West, and Black Sexual Politics,” Emily Lutenski, Saint Louis University

“Hoo-Doo Cowboys in Ishmael Reed’s Yellow-Back Radio Brokedown and Taylor Gordon’s Born to Be,” Michael K. Johnson, University of Maine-Farmington

“Women and Children First!: The American West as Public Sphere in Pearl Cleage’s Flyin’ West,” Kalenda Eaton, Arcadia University

“‘Word from the Far West’: The Black West in the Christian Recorder, 1861-1890,” Eric Gardner, Saginaw Valley State University

(No photo available of the panelists, alas)

Truer West: Western Authenticity and Unsettling the Literary West, Ten Years After

“License to Work: ‘Authentic Cowboys’ and the Legal Battle Over American Labor,” Kiara L. Kharpertian, Boston College

“Affecting Western American Nature Writing,” Andrew Husband, Texas Tech University

“Joan Didion’s Haphazard Suburban Ranchos: Claims to Property and Authenticity in Run River, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and Where I Was From,” Kaitlin Walker, University of California at Davis

“What Would Mabel Dodge Luhan Do? Celebrity Culture and Cultural Tourism in the Southwest,” Carrie Johnston, Southern Methodist University

HHI 001 (1280x853)

















Periodicals, Print Culture, and the Late 19th/Early-20th-century

“Mr. Hickock, I presume? Wild Bill, Harper’s, and Henry Stanley’s Western Adventures,” Nicolas Witschi (Western Michigan)

“Material Culture in Turn-of-the-Century, West Coast Bibelots,” Matthew Lavin (Nebraska-Lincoln)

“Capturing the Land of Sunshine: Local Color, Vanishing Indians, and the Marketing of the Southwest,” Sigrid Anderson Cordell (Michigan).

HHI 009 (1280x853)



Longmire returns

It’s been awhile since we last saw Walt Longmire on A&E. The second season of the series has aired two new episodes, with more to come. Of the two episodes, “Unquiet Mind” and “Carcasses,” I found the second to be the far more interesting. Although “Unquiet Mind” was based on the novel Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson, which I generally take as a good sign, the episode itself ended up being kind of confusing (I thought). In the novel, a serial killer being transported across Absaroka County engineers an escape involving several other prisoners. The first part of the episode follows the set up of the novel closely and effectively stages the escape and the subsequent carnage.

However, it’s perhaps key to the novel that Walt is the narrator, and much of the action, which involves Walt following the escapees alone up a mountain in a snowstorm, is filtered through Walt’s consciousness, as he reflects back on past events and as he meditates on what has become an important feature of the novels: not only does Walt respect the beliefs of his Cheyenne neighbors, he also increasingly (if reluctantly) comes to share them. A number of supernatural (or possibly supernatural) events happen in the novel, with Walt’s narration helping to create some ambiguity. Is Walt hallucinating? Or is he really getting help from spirits?

The episode jettisons the exploration of Cheyenne cultural and religious beliefs that is an important part of Hell is Empty and instead shifts the story to the narrowly psychological. Walt is feeling guilty about past actions, and various characters appear to him as he makes his way up the mountain to make various obscure comments pointing to that sense of guilt. What is effective about the novel—the sense that the exterior landscape and Walt’s interior psychological and spiritual landscape become increasingly entangled so that we can’t quite tell one from the other—does not work very well on television. The spiritual elements of the novel are gone, and the psychological exploration of Walt’s character is clichéd. And since television is not an effective medium for conveying interiority, we have lots of scenes of Walt walking around in the snow, and the episode literally meanders.

The episode “Carcasses” returned to what the series does best: good solid detective fiction (based in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes, as suggested by Branch’s revelation of a tattered “Hound of the Baskersvilles” paperback) with vividly drawn and lively secondary characters (both victims and suspects): Holly Whitish, the psychologically troubled (as we discover) collector of roadkill (which she uses for composting) who discovers a dead human body in her (animal) body farm; the (also psychologically troubled) female veteran suffering from PTSD; her bruised husband; a sharp witted prostitute working a Wyoming truck stop.  The plot of the episode may have had a few too many parallels to last season’s “A Damn Shame,” but I like the way the episode joins its western rural setting with the sensibilities of hardboiled urban detective fiction, and the episode may ultimately have been more Elmore Leonard than Arthur Conan Doyle (and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing).